In the afterword, the commentator describes George Orwell's 1984 as "a warning." Orwell plants both subtle and overt warnings to the reader. What are some of the larger issues warned against?
Orwell's 1984 presents a frightening picture of a society that has been subjugated to its rulers, to the extent that the citizens of this future England are not permitted to think for themselves, for fear of committing "thought crimes". This novel, like much of Orwell's other work, is a satire of totalitarianism as the natural end of Communism (not Socialism)--another excellent example is Animal Farm, which warns against many of the same fears brought up in 1984. Chief among these is perhaps the idea of an engineered "truth" being created by the government and issued to the people. This is evidently a parody, thinly veiled, of the USSR's newspaper, Pravda, which means "truth" but which was used as a propaganda tool. In 1984, Orwell creates the concepts of “doublethink” and “newspeak”, which are tools in the arsenal used by the government to control the populace. “Newspeak” is a modification of language to prevent rebellion, while “doublethink” is a means of simultaneously believing two apparently contradictory points. People often come to utilise “newspeak” as a means of espousing approved-of government views in order to fit in. Both these concepts, again, are satires of the ways in which politicians often speak without saying anything, or fail to live up to what they have promised. Orwell warns against a world where such politicians are not challenged.
1984 has also been used by many commentators, political as well as scholarly, to warn against globalisation. In this novel, Orwell correctly envisions that the United Kingdom would become, by 1984, part of a sort of European Union, but the way this functions in the novel is far more sinister than the real-life situation. In Orwell’s novel, war and nuclear holocaust, vaguely outlined, has resulted in the formation of three nation states: Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia. The problem with these states is that they do not serve to foster unity, but instead have led to increasing unrest and erosion of each country’s original beliefs and cultures. This type of globalisation, 1984 suggests, is a means of suppressing the masses. It is worth noting that Orwell himself also felt that organised religions of all kinds performed this same role, as the “opiate of the masses”, but unlike Marx, he felt that Communism and Totalitarianism were not the response to this, but simply another kind of corrupting religion.
One of the greatest warnings George Orwell intended to give in 1984 concerns the dangers of losing the ability to think for one's self. Throughout the book, Orwell equates true liberty with the ability to think. Slavery ensues when a person's abilities to think and to emote are suppressed.
The warning against the suppression of thought is especially seen in Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith. Winston is an intellectual who works in the Ministry of Truth; his job is to change the history records to match the Party's objectives. However, due to his intelligence, Winston cannot help being reflective and analytical. As a deep thinker, he cannot help but begin to question the correctness of the Party and even starts relaying his criticisms in a secret diary. Orwell is using Winston's ability to think, analyze, and criticize to represent Winston's liberation even though that liberation is, sadly, only temporary.
The Party suppresses thoughts and the ability to emote, thereby enslaving Winston and all citizens, through various laws. The Party even goes so far as to make it illegal to think thoughts contrary to the Party in one's sleep, and citizens can be arrested for talking in one's sleep. Even facial expressions and gestures that express emotions that do not align with the Party are illegal, as seen in the following passage:
The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself--anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called. (Chapter V)
Hence, as we can see, Orwell is using his concepts of "thoughtcrime" and "facecrime" to warn that true freedom can only be obtained so long as people maintain their ability to think for themselves.